Higher ed solutions for rural students

More states should consider creating rural higher education centers, and colleges should embrace such centers as a way to help more students succeed.

Via Inside Higher Ed.

After graduating from her rural Pennsylvania high school in 2005, Tesla Rae Moore did what most American high school seniors today expect to do: she left home for college with her sights on a four-year degree. But when she was a sophomore in nursing school at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, the unexpected intervened: she became pregnant with her son.

“It was a high-risk pregnancy, and I decided to stop the program,” she said. Moore returned to her hometown of Kane, a community of about 3,500 in northwestern Pennsylvania. At first intending just to take a break, she ended up dropping out. “I was going to go back, and then it was just one of those things,” she said. “Life happened.”

Moore didn’t lose her desire to return to college; she just couldn’t figure out how to make it work. As a single mom, she couldn’t quit her job. Moreover, getting to Pitt-Bradford, the nearest four-year institution, required a ninety-minute round-trip commute. The closest two-year college, in Butler County, was a two-hour drive each way. Online-only classes might have been a solution, but Moore felt she needed more structure to succeed. “Especially for somebody that’s been out of school, it takes a lot of discipline,” she said.

Continue reading at Inside Higher Ed.

An innovative fix for rural higher education deserts

Geography is a barrier to higher education for tens of millions of rural Americans. A few states have hit on an innovative solution.

Via Washington Monthly

After graduating from her rural Pennsylvania high school in 2005, Tesla Rae Moore did what many, perhaps most American high school seniors today expect to do: she left home for college with her sights set on a four-year degree. But when she was a sophomore in nursing school at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, the unexpected intervened: she became pregnant with her son.

“It was a high-risk pregnancy, and I decided to stop the program,” she said. Moore returned to her hometown of Kane, a community of about 3,500 nestled at the edge of the Allegheny National Forest in northwestern Pennsylvania. At first just intending to take a break, she ended up dropping out. “I was going to go back, and then it was just one of those things,” she said. “Life happened.”

Moore didn’t lose her desire to return to school; she just couldn’t figure out how to make it work as the years went by and her family grew. “I’m a single mom, and the only income earner, so I couldn’t quit my job to go to school,” she said. “And if I took classes all day, I’d have to work at night, and who would take care of the kids?” Given her work and family obligations, Moore couldn’t fit in college unless she could attend classes nearby. But getting to Pitt-Bradford, the nearest four-year school, required a round-trip commute of an hour and a half. The nearest community college, in Butler County, was a two-hour drive each way. Moore didn’t have that kind of time to spare. Online-only classes might have been a solution, but Moore felt she needed more structure to succeed. “Especially for somebody that’s been out of school, it takes a lot of discipline,” she said.

A surprising number of Americans face the same problem Moore did. According to the Urban Institute, nearly one in five American adults—as many as forty-one million people—lives twenty-five miles or more from the nearest college or university, or in areas where a single community college is the only source of broad-access public higher education within that distance. Three million of the Americans in these so-called “higher education deserts” lack broadband internet, as well.

Continue reading at Washington Monthly.

Innovating out of student debt

For many students, the burden of student debt lingers years after leaving college, dragging down their financesand household security. New federal data find that, 12 years after enrollment, students with debt still owed, on average, two-thirds of what they had borrowed –and as many as 27 percent had defaulted.

Colleges, however, face no equivalent long-term financial stake in their students’ education: their obligations are done once the tuition is paid and the last exam is graded. Except perhaps for the pressure to put on a good show for U.S. News

& World Report’s college rankings, schools have little incentive to ensure their students can land good jobs with decent pay – let alone graduate. Students bear the full risk of their investment and cope with the fallout if things don’t pan out as planned.

This lopsided burden of risk is one reason a dramatic expansion in financial aid – i.e., “free college” – can’t solve the crisis in college affordability. Schools would see no need to rein in their costs or to share the risks of investing in education with their students. In fact, the opposite. If the government is willing to pick up more of the tab for students, there’s no reason that tab wouldn’t simply grow – with potentially no reduction in student debt.

What’s needed instead is to break the paradigm of how higher education is financed. That means new mechanisms that both lower the cost of college for students and hold schools more accountable for how their graduates fare in the job market.

Continue reading at Progressive Policy Institute.

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The road to a stable job – without crippling debt

A novel grant program in Virginia is helping workers earn career-boosting occupational credentials.

Via Washington Monthly

It’s 6:45 a.m. during the height of summer construction season, and the asphalt plant at Cedar Mountain Stone Corporation in Mitchells, Virginia, has been buzzing with activity since before dawn. Thousands of pounds of crushed rock are moving along conveyor belts to be mixed with hot liquid asphalt in a gigantic drum, while trucks line up under a massive chute to take the finished asphalt away.

The company’s nearby quarry has been running 24/7, mining 8,000 tons a day of the high-quality granite for which this part of central Virginia is known. Some of this rock will end up cut and polished for people’s kitchen countertops, or lining streams and roadbeds, but much of it will end up in Cedar Mountain Stone’s asphalt plant, processed into blacktop for the thousands of miles of roads and highways that crisscross the state.

Making that asphalt is the job of Allen Miller, one of 11 apprentices at Cedar Mountain Stone. Like any good brew, good asphalt is hard to make. “We have to have certain gradations of stone, the right amount of dust, and not too much asphalt binder in it,” said Ed Dalrymple, Miller’s boss and the fourth-generation owner of Cedar Mountain Stone. “If we have all of that in the right proportions, the road’s going to last.”

Under the tutelage of a mentor at the company, Miller spends his days learning how to operate, fix and maintain the asphalt plant that is the lifeblood of the company; how to formulate asphalt so that it can withstand 20 years of freezes, thaws and the weight of thousands of tractor-trailers every day, and how to test it so that the quality of the state’s roadways passes the standards of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

Under VDOT’s pay-for-performance requirements, well-built roads earn a bonus, while inferior blacktop will cost the company penalties. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are potentially at stake, which means Dalrymple is counting on Miller to do his job right. On any given day, Miller is out drilling core samples from freshly laid road beds, watching the computerized control panels monitoring the moisture levels of asphalt being mixed at the plant, or taking 20-pound samples of asphalt to the company’s on-site laboratory for analysis.

iller is 31 years old and has been at Cedar Mountain Stone for about 16 months, working from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. or later every day. In the evenings, he goes to classes at Germanna Community College in nearby Fredericksburg for specialized classes in “asphalt technology” that are part of his apprenticeship. “It makes for some very long days,” he said.

But if he sticks it out, Miller will finish his apprenticeship with a journeyman’s license in industrial maintenance; multiple certifications in “asphalt technology” from the Virginia Asphalt Association, which will help him land jobs anywhere in the industry—and four years of work experience. Though he makes just $35,000 a year as an apprentice, his salary could jump to near six figures once he finishes his training.

Best of all, Miller will have no school debt. Cedar Mountain Stone is paying for the cost of Miller’s coursework at Germanna with the help of the New Economy Workforce Credential Grant, which Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe launched in 2016 with bipartisan legislative support.  It’s the first program in the country to help pay for non-college-credit occupational credentials, says Sara Dunnigan, executive director of Virginia’s Board of Workforce Development. While other states are focused on “free college” or “free community college,” Virginia is the first to focus on free (or near-free) credentials.

Already, the state is seeing benefits. Workers like Miller are getting affordable access to industry-recognized occupational credentials that can boost their careers, while local industries are getting the trained workers they need. In the first year of the program, the program helped 2,173 Virginians earn workplace credentials.

Under the new program, which will cost $20 million over two years, the state picks up two-thirds of the cost of acquiring non-degree workplace credentials, such as the asphalt technology certifications Miller will receive, as well as commercial drivers’ licenses, IT certifications and other industry-recognized certificates, certifications and licenses from a list approved by the state. Students pay one-third of costs to ensure they have “skin in the game,” and training programs only get their grant monies if students complete their coursework and pass the licensing or other exams necessary to receive their credential.

While Miller’s apprenticeship is a multi-year commitment, many credentialing programs typically require only a few months of training and a few thousand dollars. But they can still translate into a huge boost in wages. An entry-level IT worker with CompTIA “A+” certification, for example, can expect to earn $18 to $25 an hour. Certified welders can earn as much as $62,100 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the highest-paid electricians can make as much as $90,420. Many of the credentials on the state’s approved list involve so-called “middle skill” jobs, which require specialized training but no college degree. According to the National Skills Coalition, as many as 53 percent of all U.S. jobs fit into this category in 2015.

Continued at the Washington Monthly

 

Why Democrats should dump “free college”

When congressional Democrats recently rolled out a new economic policy agenda aimed at staking out a new, populist-leaning course for the Democratic Party—dubbed “A Better Deal”—one idea was conspicuously missing: free college.

As the signature idea of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, whose populist presidential campaign nearly upended the Democratic primary in 2016, “free college” would seem a natural fit for Democrats’ first post-election platform—both as a hat tip to the millions of younger progressives energized by Sanders’s candidacy, and as a rallying point in the fight against inequality. Instead, “A Better Deal” called for what some liberals consider thin gruel: more apprenticeships and employer incentives to invest in workers’ skills.

The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel, for example, argues the focus on skills “does nothing to address the fundamental unfairness that plagues the economy.” Others, such as Robert Borosage, are more blunt, attacking the emphasis on skills as a “charade” that is “clearly a nod to the still potent New Democrat forces in the party.”

But the Senate Democrats’ strategy is the right move. If Democrats want to win the broadest possible support both in 2018 and beyond, “free college” is not the way to do it. In fact, a Democratic insistence on free college would guarantee the party continues to talk past a significant group of voters who don’t believe that college is the best or only path to the middle class.

“Free college” might have its share of passionate adherents, but it hasn’t been broadly popular with voters. A 2016 Gallup poll, for example, found that less than half of Americans—or just 47 percent—supported the idea of tuition-free college. It’s especially unpopular among the white working class voters who flocked to Donald Trump and whom Democrats are now working hard to court.

One reason for this lack of enthusiasm might be the price tag. Even the skimpiest of benefits would be enormously expensive in the aggregate. Sanders, who recently reintroduced his “College for All” legislation, estimates the cost of his plan, to be paid for by a new “transactions tax” on stock trades, would be $47 billion a year (and that’s assuming states pick up one-third of the tab).

 

But there are other, deeper reasons why “free college” has failed to catch fire, particularly among the white working class. A sizeable share of voters don’t believe they would benefit from free college—or that the benefits would even flow their way. Many Americans also rightly believe that you don’t need a college degree to get a decent job, even in today’s globalized economy.

Continued at the Washington Monthly

Why more students should go to college in high school

Dual enrollment’ programs—where students attend both high school and college—are gaining in popularity as college costs soar.

Via Washington Monthly

At just 24 years old, Haleigh Funk Butler already has seven years of professional experience in nursing. At 17, she started training at Culpeper Community Hospital in Culpeper, Virginia, and then worked at a family practice in nearby Warrenton. At 19, she became a registered nurse. For the past four and a half years, she’s worked in the medical-surgical unit at the Novant Health–UVA Health System Culpeper Medical Center.

“Patients look at me and think I’m 16 years old,” Funk Butler said. “They say, ‘Hold up! How long have you been doing this?’ I tell them I’ve been a nurse for 7 years.”

What gave Funk Butler the head start in her career was a “dual enrollment” program at Eastern View High School in Culpeper, which prepared her to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) at the same time she was earning her diploma. Funk Butler took her LPN exam the month before her high school graduation in 2011 and then immediately landed the job in Warrenton, where she worked full-time while pursuing her RN license at Germanna Community College in Locust Grove. She continued to work and study and eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing last year from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

“If I had gone the traditional route, I would only have been a nurse for two years or maybe three years by now,” Funk Butler said. “I feel like I’m in a much more mature state than other people I know who are still struggling to find that job as a career.”

Best of all, Funk Butler is debt free. “I was lucky that my parents had a little bit of a college fund for me, but I didn’t even really break into that at all,” said Funk Butler. “I have no school debt—nothing.”

Dual enrollment programs—aimed at giving high school students a leg up on college—have been around since the 1950s. But with growing worries both about soaring college costs and whether the price of college is worth the returns in job and earnings opportunities, dual enrollment has surged in popularity as a way for students to save both time and money towards a college degree, earn a credential with immediate value in the job market—or both.

Continue reading at Washington Monthly

How to Save a High School Dropout

New research shows the key role of relationships in preventing dropout.

While the nation’s high school drop out rate has been steadily declining, young students who face tough times, such as by having a child, becoming homeless or struggling academically, are still at much higher risk of dropping out. Every year, says the America’s Promise Alliance, 485,000 young Americans leave school.

But whether a student drops out – and drops out for good – might depend on this key factor: whether the adults around them can be counted on to help them cope with adversity.

Continued at the Washington Monthly…

How to Fix High-Poverty High Schools

Affluent high schools have three things lower-income schools lack, says a new study.

A recent report from the nonprofit Pell Institute found jaw-dropping disparities in college-going and college completion rates based on a student’s family income.

Among students from households in the bottom income quartile (those earning less than $34,160 a year), just 45 percent go on to college – and only 9 percent eventually earn a bachelor’s degree. Among students from households in the top quartile, in contrast, 82 percent go on to college and 77 percent graduate.

Now a new report from CLASP helps shed light on why such glaring gaps exist. It also offers a blueprint for the specific resources that high-poverty schools need to help more students prepare for and succeed in college.

Continued at the Washington Monthly…

Online Learning Goes the Distance

Why the future of college will be online.

Over the past ten years, online education has become an increasingly mainstream part of the higher education landscape.

Since 2002 – when roughly 1.6 million college students had taken at least one course online – enrollment in online education has more than tripled. Nearly three-fourths of all four-year colleges now offer online classes, including at elite schools, and the vast majority of public two-year colleges now offer online coursework as well.

Casual observers may equate online education with the free open online classes that some schools, along with high-profile startups such as Coursera, have offered with much fanfare (so-called “massive open line courses” or “MOOCs”). But the growing ubiquity of online education is tied to its evolution in a wide variety of formats and contexts, including classes that “blend” online coursework with traditional classroom settings and a growing role in workforce training and development.

Continued at the Washington Monthly…

Core Core Foes Losing the Fight – And That’s Good

Common Core opponents are losing the fight – a hopeful sign that sound policy can trump ideology.

Via Chicago Sun-Times

Ask any parent of a school-age child: It’s not unreasonable to expect some objective measures of achievement.

First-graders should know how to count to 100 and add and subtract up to 20. Third graders should know the difference between a noun and a verb. High school seniors should be able to solve basic problems in algebra and write essays using facts to support opinions.

Standards such as these have been voluntarily adopted by 43 states and the District of Columbia. But these standards also bear the label of “Common Core” – now fighting words among certain conservatives for whom the Common Core is as anathema as Obamacare.

For the past several years, activists have waged war against states’ adoption of Common Core State Standards, and so far this year, they’ve persuaded lawmakers in 19 states to introduce legislation proposing their repeal.

But for all the sound and fury, Common Core opponents have accomplished next to nothing, succeeding in just one state – Oklahoma. And while some may see the right wing’s losing fight against the Common Core as simply evidence of their waning political muscle, the real reason behind these losses is an optimistic one: the Common Core remains intact because it’s good policy. In a political landscape littered with the victims of ideological warfare, this is one battle where common sense is prevailing over demagoguery.

Continued at the Chicago Sun-Times…